Battle for Zendikar has raised a lot of questions during this spoiler season. I wanted to take the time to cover some of those questions and how they’ve panned out thus far. As of writing this, we don’t have the entire spoiler so I reserve the right to re-evaluate this at a later date. I will certainly re-address this when I sit down and provide my Battle for Zendikar analysis for you all, which will be exactly like my Magic Origins layout.
That being said, let’s try to evaluate some of these questions and where they leave us in terms of investments going forward.
Traditional Ramp vs. See the Unwritten
This really has been the big question going into Battle for Zendikar, and to be quite honest the jury is still out. Both of these sides have been provided with key cards that make each viable. What remains is which ramp spells will be played, and which creatures will end up being played alongside See the Unwritten.
I highlighted Greenwarden of Murasa in a spoiler article and I’ll only briefly touch on it here. Greenwarden really was the card we wanted to see for See the Unwritten. See the Unwritten wasn't looking that great at the beginning of spoilers since every Eldrazi was going to be “on cast” abilities instead of “coming into play” abilities, which really hindered the upside.
Greenwarden of Murasa obviously dispels a lot of those concerns. Alongside Dragonlord Atarka this is certainly something I’d like to hit, and “buyback” the spell to use again when needed.
The same thing can be said of the new and improved Omnath, Locus of Rage. A clash of titans may ensue to determine which will be the top end of the curve, or they could just be played in tandem. Omnath really only needs one fetchland activation to be extremely potent. I’m not so concerned about See the Unwritten not having the top-end targets as I was before seeing Greenwarden of Murasa, which has changed its outlook considerably. The only issue now is if the supporting cards will hold up to a more traditional ramp list.
Speaking of the supporting cast for ramp:
Obviously there will be some overlap between See the Unwritten and traditional ramp strategies. But there does seem to be an overwhelming amount of support in Battle for Zendikar for traditional ramp--WOTC has provided plenty of enablers to cast the new Eldrazi with their "cast" triggers. Ulamog 2.0 is still great off the back of See the Unwritten, but casting Ulamog for the trigger seems much better.
A traditional ramp list also gets access to the combo of Crumble to Dust and Oblivion Sower.
We’ve mentioned on the QS Cast that Oblivion Sower might be the real deal (in which case it will follow a financial trajectory similar to Polukranos, World Eater). I love myself some Frenzied Tilling in days past, but it did not approach the power of the interaction between these two cards. Cranial Extraction one of their lands, dig four additional cards deep, and then put all those lands into play untapped, is an explosive play with a lot of potential.
So it seems the supporting cast at the current time is better for traditional ramp, but I think both versions can be viable. As far as what specific ramp cards get played, I think the jury is still out. The top end seems to lean heavily on creatures like Ulamog, so I think cards like Rattleclaw Mystic and Shaman of Forgotten Ways seem great here. We also were given this new guy:
Creature - Elf Shaman Ally
T: Add 1 mana of any color to your mana pool. Use this mana only to cast creature spells.
Will Expeditions Keep Prices Depressed?
This is the big question on everyone's mind. I have to say that I don’t have a definitive answer right now. There’s just no historical data to help draw a conclusion because we never had something quite like this before. It’s going to continue into Oath of the Gatewatch, and then where do we go from there? I don’t have any clue on the long-term outlook for Expeditions, but I can try to piece together some coherent thoughts.
We can start by simply ignoring the Expeditions all together, and looking at BFZ relative to other sets without Expeditions. What we get is a scenario similar to Khans of Tarkir, where pricing initially started high despite having fetchlands in the set. There was a time period when the singles of the set were commanding a high price simply because the supply hadn't caught up yet.
As you can see, Khans started extraordinarily high, and then finally leveled off since everyone was cracking a large amount of sealed product for the fetchlands. It wasn't long ago that Anafenza, the Foremost was sitting at $9. Fast forward and the overall value of the set has diminished to the point that highly playable constructed cards like Mantis Rider are barely holding 1$. In fact, the only current cards holding above a 10$ price tag are the fetchlands themselves.
The thing about Battle for Zendikar is that, all things considered, preorder prices are surprisingly low. Also, the disparity of opening an Expedition to opening a fetchland in Khans of Tarkir block is huge. Fetchlands are mere rares, whereas Expeditions are “slightly higher rarity than a foil mythic rare," according to Maro. In that regard the preorder pricing looks similar to a set like Dragons of Tarkir. We all remember how much value that set initially lacked, but eventually it had plenty of breakout cards.
So, why are the preorders so conservative then? Well, in addition to the Expeditions there’s also a rare land cycle in the “Company Lands”. In that case, we’re essentially given a hard floor with this rare cycle of lands, and a soft ceiling with the Expedition inserts. It’s really a tricky situation, because there’s not a ton of value to be extracted from this set, and the preorder prices reflect that somewhat.
You weren’t surprised Kiora 2.0 was pre-selling under 20$? Or Ob Nixilis preordering for 15$? On Star City Games no less; that just doesn’t happen often. Compare that to a card like Narset Transcendent at $49.99. The value really is going to be in a select few cards, just like Khans of Tarkir. I don’t think the Company Lands will all maintain prices above 10$, and it will be up to the speculators to identify which cards are the future gems.
My Picks So Far
That being said, I will divulge my attempt to find value in this set. Here is what I preordered thus far:
8 Fathom Feeder @ .49c
24 Fathom Feeder @ $.99
12 Oblivion Sower (BFZ Edition) @ $3.47
8 Oblivion Sower (DD Edition) @2.99
It’s a very small list, because I think the number of cards that have value in this set will be very small. As of right now, the Insider forums are really excited about this card. It’s the quintessential dollar rare that can explode in value for a period of time with the right exposure. I have a hard time not seeing this card in Standard, and quite frankly it's the only rare with a preorder price worth purchasing that caught my eye.
Oblivion Sower has also been discussed in the forums, and I think it’s starting to generate more interest as we continue to see more of the rares and mythics in this set. The value on this card is immense, and I think we’re going to see the situation that I outlined earlier. The Duel Deck copies are actually more aesthetically pleasing, and they're not in a high EV Duel Deck that could hold the price down. The price hike may not be the most exciting thing ever, but this is a great candidate for one of the small number of cards that can hold 10$ in this set.
Those are my initial thoughts about Battle for Zendikar. If you want to hear more, please comment here, or continue with the discussions in the forums. It’s a quick and efficient way to analyze these cards as they’re spoiled and come away with decisions on pre-ordering or not.
Also, take a listen to the QS Cast! Insiders get to them first, and we talk about what you want to hear--the cast is truly connected directly to our Insiders’ needs.
Until next time!